Loudoun Valley's volleyball players know they have been more than a little spoiled by their home crowd. The No. 2 Vikings have played all seven of their playoff games to date in front of packed crowds at their home gym -- including Tuesday night's 25-7, 25-21, 25-16 victory over Jamestown in the Virginia AA quarterfinals that secured their trip to Carroll County High in Hillsville, site of this year's final four.
Loudoun Valley will play the winner of Tuesday's quarterfinal between Rustburg and Lee in a semifinal at 5 p.m. Friday. The winner of that game will advance to Saturday's final at 2 p.m.
"We're so close right now, we just have to keep it up," said Vikings senior outside hitter Sarah Neikirk. "All our of goals are right there within reach now."
Loudoun Valley has dropped only one game during its first seven playoff matches and consistently has enjoyed big and boisterous crowds, including a showing of nearly 1,000 at Tuesday's quarterfinal. Approximately 200 of that total were students in "The Jungle" who stood and clapped, hooted and hollered throughout.
"We're taking with us to Carroll County a lot of confidence, a lot of experience and a crowd that I think will show up in numbers that surprise people," said Loudoun Valley Coach Laird Johnson, despite Hillsville being 265 miles from Purcellville. "We're going to talk with our athletic directors about a fan bus for the kids, but I've also been getting e-mails from former students who are at Radford and Virginia Tech and say they're going to make what will be a much shorter trip for them. Hopefully they'll be enough of The Jungle there to make an impact."
Johnson is hoping, too, that his team continues to maintain the top-notch level of play that has served it so well in recent weeks. Loudoun Valley (27-0) flat out dominated Jamestown (21-5) in the quarterfinal match, overpowering it with a well-rounded attack that was spearheaded by 6-foot-4 junior middle hitter Blair Brown.
Spurred on by more than one signature yell of "Get off me ball!" by The Jungle after a particularly hard shot, Brown totaled a match-high 22 kills and 10 blocks. She also got substantial help from senior outside hitters Neikirk (8 kills) and Amanda Kole (7 kills, 11 digs), senior setters Jen Todd (17 assists, 21 service points) and Allison Hamilton (16 assists) and senior defensive specialist Jennifer Everhart (9 digs).
"They do have Blair, and she no doubt makes a huge difference," Jamestown Coach Krista Carpenedo said. "But there is a lot of other talent on that team, too. They are very well rounded. My girls did the best they could against them, but this is a tough place to play and a tough team to play against. We don't ever see crowds like that."
Most opponents rarely face teams like that, either.
"I think teams, especially ones that aren't from around here and don't know us, are surprised when they play us," Neikirk said. "They see Blair and think she's all they have to worry about, but there are so many girls on this team who can make a big play. That's why it's been so much fun."